JK Pro Audio, a manufacturer of telephone audio interface products, has come out with a device that might be of use to intercom users in theatre. If that cable connecting your belt pack to your uncomfortable headset is getting you down after the ninth hour of tech, the Interloop could be your next purchase.
We all see those small Bluetooth earpieces that give you the luxury of hands-free cell phone conversations and make you look super important. Some people also use these (or more complete Bluetooth headsets) with Bluetooth-enabled computers to Skype or video-conference. It’s cool and works in a limited range and leaves you hands-free and without a cable.
Not entirely surprisingly, that technology in now available to intercom users. The Interloop looks like a fairly traditional belt pack, with standard XLR connections in and thru. What it doesn’t have is a headset connection. The Interloop "belt pack" takes the wired signal and broadcasts it to a paired Bluetooth device. This device can be any Bluetooth-enabled piece of gear, including your earpiece, a headset, a laptop, or cell phone. And it’s all pretty smartly configured. The potential of wearing a tiny earpiece instead of a big headset is appealing even on the surface.
The Interloop will work with either RTS or Clear-Com wired systems (you select which wiring scheme via an accessible internal switch). For an initial pairing between the Interloop and a new device, you easily put the Interloop into pairing mode and then have the device of your choosing pair with it, just like the first time you use a Bluetooth mouse with your laptop. Once you’ve paired a device with the Interloop, it will remember it for future use, and you can skip that step. The Interloop hopes to be paired with multiple devices and will gladly remember the last 16 devices with which it has socialized.
There’s also a switch on the bottom for selecting the type of device you want to pair with, either phone or headset. The phone setting includes any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or laptop. So you could actually stream the intercom to your iPhone and then wear your ear buds, if you desired. Using your phone, you could also let other phones pair to you to further broadcast the intercom signal. Or stream the intercom chatter to your laptop and easily record it (good for stage manager training; bad in most other cases), or send it to Skype even for a truly networked intercom. The potential of a closed intercom system becoming less closed is a little scary, actually. Finally, you could use the Interloop to turn your laptop or Bluetooth-enabled speaker into speaker station, say in the production office.
A great feature is that the Interloop has separate volume control for send and receive (i.e. incoming chatter and your outgoing response). There are plenty of times that I wish this existed on traditional wireless intercom systems, and JK Audio rightly noticed that the broad range of third-party Bluetooth devices meant they had to include a way for a user to make the needed adjustments. Another smart feature is the provision for an optional 9v battery. Since the Interloop is powered by its wired intercom connection, the battery isn’t required for the unit to work. However, with a battery installed, should you disconnect the hardwired connection, your headset will remain paired with the Interloop.
What makes the device somewhat of a head scratcher is that, of course, you’re not completely wireless. Using the Bluetooth 2.0 protocol and JK Audio’s BlueSet technology, you need to stay in the approximate range of 40’ of the Interloop. The good news is that you don’t have to wear the Interloop; you can leave it at your station backstage. That means you can hear any incoming material up to 40’ away, but if you want to talk, you need to run back to the Interloop and press the talk button. That's not the end of the world, but it's not as freeing as a true wireless solution.
That said, I can see this being desirable for a number of people in production who aren’t normally on a wireless intercom unit. Designers might like the freedom and comfort of a wireless, lightweight earpiece at the tech table. Any programmer or followspot operator who mostly listens might love the comfort and ease. If you’re already on a wireless intercom unit, however, the Interloop can’t help you. You have to trade the wireless intercom connection for the headset cable, while those with wired connections can now loose the headset cable.
While any Bluetooth headset will work with the Interloop, JK Audio also makes a high-performance, ultra lightweight headset that they recommend for the superior Interloop experience. The BSETHS1 Bluetooth Headset is a call center-style headset that will not only pair with the Interloop, but it extends the range of use up to an impressive 66'. (Note that the additional range only works with JK’s BlueSet devices, like the Interloop. With other Bluetooth devices, the range is reduced to 33'.) The sleek boom places a noise-canceling microphone right by your mouth for natural sound and a reduction in ambience noise. The single-ear piece is a mere 2oz, so it will remain comfortable after hours of wear. There are buttons for initial pairing and volume control on the earpiece, as well as a mini-USB jack and cable for charging the Lithium-ion battery. A typical battery charge will last for 15 hours of talk time and 20 hours of standby.
Ah, Bluetooth. This short-range wireless technology has been making wires disappear and devices talk to each other for quite a few years now. And at last, that technology has come to the tech table. While the Interloop might not be a game-changer, anything that makes the long and uncomfortable hours at a tech table more bearable is a welcome gift. Next, I’d like a magic theatre seat that turns into an adjustable office chair.